NCAA Bracket 2014: Picks and Updated Odds Ahead of 1st-Round Day 1 Schedule

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

North Carolina State's T.J. Warren (24) celebrates during the second half of a quarterfinal NCAA college basketball game against Syracuse at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 14, 2014. North Carolina State won 66-63. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Bob Leverone/Associated Press

Although it's a mere whetting of the appetite before Thursday's feast, Tuesday marks the official beginning of the 2014 NCAA tournament with the first-round-don't-call-them-play-in games. 

In the evening's first matchup, Albany and Mount Saint Mary's vie for the right to be slaughtered by Florida. Later, North Carolina State and Xavier battle for the field's final No. 12 seed. Both games will air on truTV as part of the NCAA's continued effort to televise and stream every game, a practice that has likely rendered the third week in March the least efficient five-day stretch on the calendar.

All Your Bracket Essentials

Bleacher Report

It's tempting to write off these First Four matchups as unworthy of your attention, but history says that's not a great idea. The dueling No. 16 seeds have literally a zero percent success rate against top-seeded teams, but the limited sample of the other games proves that getting the initial jitters out may be a boon.

In 2011, VCU went from First Four to Final Four. A year later, No. 12 South Florida took down No. 5 Temple before narrowly missing out on a Sweet 16 berth. Last year, La Salle did make it to the Sweet 16 but lost to a No. 9 seed in Wichita State.

That's a 3-for-3 success rate for at least one First Four team pulling off an upset in the round of 64. The sample is so small that we cannot guarantee correlation, but these games are far from meaningless. With No. 11 and No. 12 seeds among the most reliable "big" upsets in the field—both win roughly 35 percent of their matchups in the round of 64, per Bracket Science—N.C. State, Xavier, Tennessee and Iowa each deserve close attention.

With that in mind, let's check in on Tuesday's First Four games and see how the championship odds have changed since Selection Sunday.

No. 16 Albany vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary's (South Region)

Mar 15, 2014; Stony Brook, NY, USA; Albany Great Danes guard Peter Hooley (12) controls the ball against Stony Brook Seawolves guard Jameel Warney (10) in the championship game of the America East college basketball tournament at Pritchard Gym. Mandatory
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

When: Tuesday, March 18 at 6:40 p.m. ET

Where: University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio

Watch: truTV

Stream: March Madness Live

First things first: Let's hope Albany leaves the hideous shorts at home. Our second note should point out that both Albany and Mount St. Mary's are far better than Texas Southern and Cal Poly, only one of which (Texas Southern) has to make the trip to Dayton.

Other than that, these are your basic, run-of-the-mill bad teams that might struggle to crack the 50-point barrier against Florida.

Albany won six of its last seven games to finish the season, but it lacks offensive firepower. Peter Hooley scores a team-high 15.7 points per game, which comes on concerning 40.7 percent shooting from the field. As a team, the Great Danes finished the regular season 225th in offensive efficiency—not great considering their shaky schedule. 

At the very least, we can say Mount St. Mary's is fun to watch. The Mountaineers play an interesting up-and-down style that will provide a stark contrast not only to the plodding of Albany but also to Florida. They run the ninth-fastest tempo among teams who advanced to the NCAA tournament. Florida and Albany, meanwhile, both average 63.2 possessions per game—ranking outside the top 300 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted pace metric.

Don Wright/Associated Press

Rashad Whack and Julian Norfleet lead the way offensively, each averaging over 17 points per game. Norfleet, a senior guard from Virginia Beach, is setting career highs all over the field and is a creative ball-handler in the open court.

The Mountaineers also deserve some credit for ratcheting up the difficulty of their nonconference schedule. Michigan State, BYU and Villanova all hosted Mount St. Mary's during the regular season. Each of those three tournament teams won by more than 30 points, but, I mean, we're splitting the thinnest of hairs here.

The flip side is that Mount St. Mary's is a mess defensively. Only Texas Southern allowed more points per 100 possessions than the Mountaineers. Luckily, though, they're playing a team with the fundamental inability to take advantage. 

There's a temptation to select the team with the better record here, but do yourself a favor and go with the team that played the better nonconference schedule.

Score Prediction: Mount Saint Mary's 74, Albany 62

No. 12 North Carolina State vs. No. 12 Xavier (Midwest Region)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14:  Semaj Christon #0 of the Xavier Musketeers reacts in the first half against the Creighton Bluejays during the Semifinals of the 2014 Men's Big East Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 14, 2014 in New York City
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

When: Tuesday, March 18 at 9:10 p.m. ET

Where: University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio

Watch: truTV

Stream: March Madness Live

As they did during the regular season, the Wolfpack will go as far as T.J. Warren can take them. The ACC Player of the Year finished third nationally with 24.8 points per game, and he did so at a relatively efficient clip. Warren finished 14th in Ken Pomeroy's offensive ratings (subscription required) among players who used 28 percent or more of their team's possessions, putting him well ahead of high-profile names such as Jabari Parker and Marcus Smart.

Warren isn't ever going to get professional recognition on par with Smart or Parker, but he's so combustibly good that Xavier, the better team, cannot be comfortable. With 20 or more points in his last 17 games, Warren might be the most dangerous individual in the Big Dance this side of Doug McDermott.

His teammates? Ehh. They leave one or six things to be desired. Warren is the only remotely high-volume scorer on the N.C. State roster. Ralston Turner, Anthony Barber and Desmond Lee hover at or below 40 percent from the field, and only Turner can be considered an above-average shooter from distance. In the rare instances Warren has struggled as a scorer this season, N.C. State's entire roster has cratered.

Xavier's inability to stop McDermott—the Creighton star averaged 31.3 points per game against the Musketeers during the regular season—speaks well for Warren's chance to thrive. 

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 14:  T.J. Warren #24 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack dunks the ball against the Syracuse Orange during the quarterfinals of the 2014 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 14, 2014 in Greensboro, North
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

On the other hand, the Wolfpack's own defensive foibles should again cause them trouble. N.C. State finished No. 144 nationally in defensive efficiency, making it the worst nonautomatic qualifier. Only Saint Louis, which ranks 175th offensively, was worse among at-large teams on either end of the floor. It speaks to the committee's distaste for the AAC that the Wolfpack got in over a team like SMU to begin with.

In that regard, Musketeers guard Semaj Christon may get the showcase he's been looking for. Christon grades out as a second-round NBA prospect in his own right, and he could have a field day against N.C. State's weak perimeter defense. Regardless of what happens, it would probably be a short-sighted decision for Christon to come out after this season, but don't be surprised if this turns into a two-man game.

Assuming Christon can play Warren to even a relative draw, Xavier should be able to move on. Justin Martin, Matt Stainbrook and Isaiah Philmore are just superior surrounding talents. 

Score Prediction: Xavier 70, North Carolina State 67 

2014 NCAA Tournament Odds
1Wichita St.8-1
3Iowa St.45-1
4Michigan St.10-1
4San Diego St.40-1
5Saint Louis90-1
6North Carolina40-1
6Ohio St.55-1
7New Mexico75-1
9Kansas St.300-1
9George WashingtonN/A
9Oklahoma St.45-1
10Saint Joseph’sN/A
10Arizona St.N/A
12North Carolina St.N/A
12North Dakota St.N/A
12Stephen F. AustinN/A
13New Mexico St.N/A
14Western Mich.N/A
14N.C. CentralN/A
15Eastern Ky.N/A
16Coastal CarolinaN/A
16Weber St.N/A
16Mt. St. Mary’s100-1
16Texas SouthernN/A
16Cal PolyN/A
N/AField (Any Other Team)30/1
Vegas Insider

All advanced metrics come via KenPom (subscription required for some data). 

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